The idea that Jeremy Corbyn laid the foundations for peace in Northern Ireland is total fantasy

by Anthony Breach

The other day I was informed that, along with every other person from Northern Ireland, I was wrong about the Good Friday Agreement and the Northern Irish peace process. Rather than being the product of improbable, bewildering, and exhausting negotiations between at least five different parties, it was actually Jeremy Corbyn who “set up peace in Northern Ireland”. This was though I’d never heard any other Northern Irish person before last month utter Corbyn’s name in gratitude, anger, or even at all.

I was directed to an interview with Corbyn (relevant clip) where, along with mentioning his commendable work on the Birmingham Six and some dubious comments on Irish history generally, Corbyn says:

“During the 1980s… we built up regular contacts with Sinn Fein, we were condemned by our own Party Leadership for so doing… and we were proven to be right. In the end, even Margaret Thatcher recognised that there had to be some kind of political settlement in Ireland, that militarily it wasn’t going to be possible, and eventually this became the Good Friday Agreement after the 1997 election.”

How this became “Corbyn set up peace in Northern Ireland” in his supporter’s understanding remains unclear. He is however not the only one to believe this – surprisingly many people are under the impression that Corbyn’s involvement in Northern Irish politics has been not only significant but beneficial.

Corbyn himself makes a politically magical leap from Thatcher’s change in policy and the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, but he does at least avoid claiming outright that his talks were the basis for the Agreement, unlike Owen Jones and other Corbyn supporters.

This was however all before a frankly bizarre interview Corbyn conducted with BBC Radio Ulster where, as the leading candidate for the Labour leadership and our potential offer of Prime Minister to the British people, Corbyn five times refused to explicitly condemn the IRA and equated the British army with a non-state terrorist organisation that murdered British civilians as a matter of policy.

For the record, Corbyn’s involvement with Troops Out (the main Irish Republican organisation in Britain); his hosting of members of Sinn Féin in Parliament mere weeks after the Brighton bombing in which his fellow MPs were murdered; and his willingness to publicly talk and be associated with Sinn Féin whilst supporting their political goal of a United Ireland when the IRA had not yet implemented a ceasefire were, at best, without consequence in the peace process, and at worst, a spoiler. Corbyn’s talks did not produce anything of the framework upon which the Good Friday Agreement and the rest of the peace process was built.

More important than the political theatre Corbyn engaged in is the fact that Corbyn has not been consistent in his support of the efforts made by Britain to encourage dialogue and the Northern Ireland Peace Process. Most notably, he voted against the critically important 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, saying:

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that some of us oppose the agreement for reasons other than those that he has given [i.e. Unionist]? We believe that the agreement strengthens rather than weakens the border between the six and the twenty-six counties, and those of us who wish to see a united Ireland oppose the agreement for that reason.

This is not the argument of a lonely peacemaker, working to achieve dialogue with an intransigent IRA, but that of someone who deferred to Sinn Féin’s then-policy on Irish issues. Hence why Corbyn’s refusal to condemn the IRA this week was so worrying – it would be one thing if he was spectacularly naïve and earnestly did just believe that “all bombings were bad”, but the fact he opposed the peace process when Sinn Féin also opposed the peace process indicates he wasn’t interested in a “political settlement” which would have ended those bombings as soon as possible. Most objectionably, whilst nowadays Corbyn claims to be ahead of Thatcher in attempting a political settlement, he neglects to mention he opposed and voted against Thatcher’s most important contribution to peace when she negotiated the Anglo-Irish Agreement!

In particular, these views of Corbyn’s should raise concerns for any Labour member who supports the Northern Irish peace process. Unionists would reasonably find it difficult to view a Corbyn government as a neutral broker given his record, and even if he failed to act on his principles it would place the already stressed process under extreme pressure. And this is not even considering the worst case scenario of what would happen if Corbyn forced the Republican policy he supports upon Northern Ireland.

Despite all this, it is however easy to understand why Corbyn’s involvement in Northern Ireland appeals to his supporters, even though they don’t understand the conflict. Corbyn’s “talking to Sinn Féin” followed by the Good Friday Agreement over a decade later superficially looks like an example of Labour – and specifically, the hard left of Labour – wielding power despite being out of power.

It’s a lullaby, told to soothe those anxious about the real and well-founded concern a Corbyn-led Labour party would be unable to ever form a Labour government. This is a shame, as our work on the Good Friday Agreement and in securing additional steps in the Northern Ireland peace process is one of the sparkling achievements of the New Labour government.

Those looking at Corbyn’s candidacy with Northern Ireland in mind should remember two things: First, Corbyn’s record is that of an advocate for Sinn Fein and their policy, not that of a peacemaker as some of his supporters claim. Second, it was by being in government, not hosting luncheons with bombers in opposition, that Labour could make a peace in Northern Ireland.

Anthony Breach is a researcher and a London Labour party member


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33 Responses to “The idea that Jeremy Corbyn laid the foundations for peace in Northern Ireland is total fantasy”

  1. Chris Jones says:

    Corbyn DID CNDEMN the IRA in the interview (my emphasis in capitals below)

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/jeremy-corbyn-the-artful-dodger-a-transcript-of-his-nolan-interview-31430884.html

    ‘SN: But do you condemn what the IRA did?

    JC: I CONDEMN ALL BOMBING [i..e including IRA & British army – CJ] , it is NOT A GOOD IDEA, and it is TERRIBLE what happened.

    SN: The question is do you condemn what the IRA did?

    JC: Look I condemn what was done by the British Army AS WELL AS THE OTHER SIDES as well [i.e IRA – CJ]. What happened in Derry in 1972 was pretty devastating as well.

    SN: Do you distinguish between State forces like the British Army and the IRA?

    JC: Well in a sense the treatment of IRA prisoners which made them into virtual political prisoners suggested that the British government and the State saw some kind of almost equivalency. I mean my point is that THE WHOL VIOLENCE WAS TERRIBLE was terrible, was appalling, and came out of a process that had been allowed to fester in Northern Ireland for a very long time and surely we can move on a bit and look towards the achievements of the peace process in moving things forward.’

  2. Janice says:

    There are a lot of fantasies around Jeremy Corbyn, so this doesn’t surprise. This is an interesting article, I have bookmarked it for future reference, as I am sure it won’t be that long before the claims about his involvement in the peace progress grow even more.

  3. swatantra says:

    JC was right to condemn both sides to the conflict, particularly the intransigence of British Govts to face up to the Ulster Unionists and their disgraceful conduct in treating the Catholic’s as 2nd class citizens. The sooner these Orangre marches and intimidation into catholic areas stop the better. Ban the Marches and ban the Orange Order.

  4. Bob Crossley says:

    Anyone who believes that JC’s present or past statements and actions on NI are anything other than a vote loser really needs to get out more.

  5. Landless Peasant says:

    Well at least Sinn Fein are opposing the Tory Welfare reforms, which is what Labour should have done in Britain if they had any balls

  6. Keith Veness says:

    Unlike the author of this article, I saw first hand how the Peace Process actually progressed. My wife worked for JC for 17 years and accompanied him over to Ireland (North & South) on many occasions. Unfortunately Anthony is in Breach of most of the facts. It actually wasn’t Blair getting into office that broke the log jam but a statement by a Tory Minister, Brooke, that said “Britain now has no selfish interests in Ireland and is willing to talk peace” that started it off. Parallel with that John Hume and Gerry Adams had both, under a lot of criticism, started talks about what a ceasefire and negotiations could look like. Silly not to recognise that it was a Tory regime that started it. When Labour got elected in 1997 the process had again stalled – and Mo Mowlam ( on behalf of the Government ) asked Jeremy to act as a “go between”, which he did on many occasions. The big sticking point was “prisoner release” and Jeremy and my wife went over there on many occasions. Jeremy persuaded Mo to go into the H-Blocks to talk directly to the prisoners reps and that eventually worked. Jeremy and his staff spent months taking up the anomalies of the “prisoner release scheme” – we’ve still got all the files from that! – without which Sinn Fein & the IRA could not have agreed any process. So Jeremy did play a key role in getting the Good Friday agreement – just ask Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness if you don’t believe me. Mr Breach is living in a fantasy world and should read up a bit before dashing off ignorant articles.

  7. Anthony says:

    Hi Keith,

    Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m fully aware that the peace process from the perspective of the British Government was begun under the Conservative Government. It’s uncontroversial, and doesn’t really need to be stated. New Labour’s energy and attention directed towards Northern Ireland were however crucial in gaining and securing the GFA and subsequent Agreements, and we can feel justifiably proud of the Blair Government’s rather exemplary record in Northern Ireland.

    I was unaware though of Corbyn’s role as a messenger between the Labour Government and the IRA/SF after their ceasefire. That’s commendable, as his work on the Birmingham Six was, but it’s still a shame it took him so long to stop defying the Government and Labour policy on Northern Ireland. It still does not detract from either his earlier association with Sinn Fein and his corresponding role in attempting to block the peace process as it began to develop, or his refusal in the present day to explicitly condemn the IRA. His maverick status on these issues is not something to be praised either on principle or in helping the political process which brought about peace.

    Best,

  8. Joe Duggan says:

    This is a straw man article. It starts with an outlandish suggestion from some bloke on twitter which everyone knows to be false and then you dismantle it and pretend you’ve dismantled a much more complex and nuanced story. Interesting comment Number 6 from some one who was actually there – which actually tells us a bit more about what Corbyn did actually do. As some one who lived in Belfast at the time and did a bit of community work, Corbyn’s “I condemn all sides equally” approach was standard training for anyone genuinely interested in building peace. Anything else was pandering to point-scoring. But hey don’t let that get in the way of a good story.

  9. swatantra says:

    About time Sinn Fein got kicked out of Parliament for not taking up their seats; hich should go to the runners up. Its an absolute disgrace.

  10. Jimmy says:

    Interesting comments. Mowlam was an absolutely awful SoS, probably the worst ever. Corbyn’s involvement explains a great deal.

  11. GTC says:

    It is politically naive to answer the question “Do you condemn what the IRA did” with “I condemn what the British Army did”, even if JC did then go on to criticise the IRA implicitly. JC is a prominent member of Amnesty International, but the reality is that the IRA were the antithesis of what AI stands for. Until and unless JC backs down and explicitly condemns the actions of the IRA for the atrocities they actually were, he is laying himself open to accusations of hypocrisy, and I fear that this will be his undoing.

  12. Jimmy says:

    JC is a prominent member of Amnesty International,

    He’s also a member of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. Means nothing.

  13. Tafia says:

    Until and unless JC backs down and explicitly condemns the actions of the IRA for the atrocities they actually were

    No mainstream politician is going to do that. It will endanger the peace process.

    You would have to be thick enough to think that there is no way that the Chief of Staff of a terrorist organisation, who is actually a hands on killer and for a period directly commanded the Civil Action Teams (the kneecappers, interogators, tortureres and executioners) would ever end up as part of the State, earning tax payer money in excess of four times the average wage, with a gold plated taxpayer pension that most people can only fantasise about, in a Ministerial capacity in what is the most devolved area of UK (NI is more devolved than Scotland).

    But that’s the reality of McGuiness – who was frontline commander of the Bogside ASU at the time of Bloody Sunday, rose to command the entire Derry Brigade, before working his way up to Chief of Staff of the Provisional Army Council. He didn’t just direct terror operations, he was an active participant in attacks that saw soldiers, police officers and civilians killed and maimed, took part in torture and executions (including of children)(allegedly) – and was exceptionally gifted at it (allegedly). And the State has rewarded him well. He even has an armed bodyguard paid for by us.

    So lets have none of this nonsense about Corbyn’s stance. It’s nothing compared to the stance of the State – and if you oppose the State’s stance then you oppose the entire Peace Process.

  14. Brownie says:

    Corbyn may very well have done commendable work in the years/months immediately preceding the GFA, but that doesn’t give him a pass for his earlier behavior. I have no issue whatsoever praising Adams for the political and personal risks he took bringing SF to the table in 1998, but likewise that doesn’t mean he was the right sort of person to be lining up behind in 1988. I’m comforted by the fact that this was also the view of the majority of NI’s nationalists who only offered their electoral support to SF once it had committed itself to the democratic process. Unlike Corbyn.

    The appropriate question is why was the member for Islington north more nationalist than the nationalists in Ireland’s north? Answers on a postcard.

  15. Alex Macfie says:

    Tafia

    “No mainstream politician is going to do that [condemn IRA terrorism as atrocities]. “

    Actually ALL mainstream politicians condemn IRA terrorism without equivocation. They did so when the IRA was active, and do now. Corbyn is the maverick, for being mealy-mouthed about his condemnation of IRA terrorism, and previous honouring of IRA terrorists.

  16. There is a way forward other 00004000 than spending a very large amount of money and the potential of yet another catastrophic conflict, he added. But today Mr Weston, an outspoken ex-Welsh Guards member who was handed an OBE in 1992, laid into Mr Corbyn’s views as an ‘insult to the islanders’.

  17. Paul says:

    There are two interesting points in this discussion.

    1. Swatantra refers to Catholics as being second class citizens.
    But to Labour and the trade unions, everyone in Northern Ireland is second class.
    We are not allowed to have Labour candidates in elections. We will never be able to vote on Jeremy Corbyns manifesto.
    We are only allowed to be members of the party after the threat of legal action.

    JC does not want Labour to stand in NI and if he had his way he would probably withdraw membership as well. Democratic? Inclusive? Just?

    2. Labour loves to talk about its peace process. In an article for Progress, Peter Hain described it as “New Labours Peace Process”. The rest of us were just the supporting cast.

    Think about this. Peter Hain, born in Kenya, brought up in South Africa. Comes to the UK and leads a campaign against a system that excluded vast numbers of South Africans from The government of their country.

    Joins a UK party that excludes 2 million people from the government of their country.

    It’s time Labour ended this discrimination. Why not sign the petition https://www.change.org/p/lpni

  18. Brian says:

    Well said Paul!

    ttps://www.change.org/p/lpni

  19. ““The idea that Jeremy Corbyn laid the foundations for peace in Northern Ireland is total fantasy”” – yes, but it’s YOUR fantasy; Corbyn never claimed it, and I never heard anyone else claim it on his behalf. Sure, like many on the left, he had dialogue with Sin Fein politicians; they unwilling to trust the British government, who displayed, time and again, overt loyalty to the protestant groupings, and – in the interests of peace, Corbyn, among others, spoke with them. That dialogue was a significant part of the peace process, but I wouldn’t put it stronger than that. And I doubt Corbyn would.

  20. “The idea that Jeremy Corbyn laid the foundations for peace in Northern Ireland is total fantasy”” – yes, but it’s YOUR fantasy; Corbyn never claimed it, and I never heard anyone else claim it on his behalf. Sure, like many on the left, he had dialogue with Sin Fein politicians; they unwilling to trust the British government, who displayed, time and again, overt loyalty to the protestant groupings, and – in the interests of peace, Corbyn, among others, spoke with them. That dialogue was a significant part of the peace process, but I wouldn’t put it stronger than that. And I doubt Corbyn would.

  21. BOMBA 777 says:

    Northern Ireland is illegally occupied land. Stolen by a violent bullying nation that should f’off out & for all time hang it’s lying, murderous head in shame.

  22. catherine says:

    What people dont get is that Jeremy Corbyn WAS a part of the peace process, when it started working the conservatives not wanting a labour MP ro take accountablity for the peace process then after stating they do not do talks with terrorists ousted Corbyn saying he was making their talks worse and not helping and thus then took over along with credit for the peace process . please lets get this right and stop slandering a good mans name!

  23. Tony Reynolds says:

    Anthony Breach fails to acknowledge Jeremy Corbyn’s strong influence on people is due to his simplicity and sincerity which appeal to everyone concerned about the diabolical injustice and inequality in our society. When Cameron was boosting arms sales to South Africa in spite of UN sanctions Corbyn was arrested for demonstrating against apartheid. He has been criticised for being a rebel and having persistently voted against his party’s policies but he was fully justified. Tony Blair was elected after visiting Rupert Murdoch in Australia, carried out his wishes and diluted the Labour party’s policies accordingly. Corbyn also voted against the invasion of Iraq and bombing Syria in spite of being ridiculed as a pacifist but he has the courage of his convictions in stark contrast to the Labour MPs who abstained from voting against cuts to tax credits. All these facts militate against the argument that he wasn’t instrumental in bringing about the Good Friday agreement. He doesn’t keep a low profile – like Theresa May in the Referendum debate with an eye on her prospect of becoming Prime Minister – but commits himself regardless of the abuse to which he is subjected and the risks to his reputation. Having always been a backbencher with no experience of a ministerial position he has obviously made mistakes yet in ten months he has achieved more for the victims of this government than his opponents have ever done, notably by persuading Tory MPs to backtrack on their votes for tax credit cuts. No one can dispute his courage, integrity and compassion which are far more important qualities than those possessed by Tony Blair, David Cameron and Theresa May but it is as a peacemaker that he would like to be remembered when we see Syrian children with amputated limbs incurred as the result of our former PM’s noble “defence” of our kingdom…

  24. Jon says:

    I look forward to the day that right wingers can exclusively criticise Israel for its atrocities… So many cannot it seems.

  25. Paul says:

    I am fed up with this Labour bun fight over Northern Ireland.

    Let’s be clear.

    1. If Mr Corbyn did play a role, he restricted his activities to one side. No one seems to be able to confirm any significant contact with Loyalists.
    2. When you look at the totality of his comments, there seems to be little doubt that he took his lead from SF. He had a specific interest and he aligned himself with representatives of that interest.
    3. As a ‘democrat’ he has never once asked the people of Northern Ireland their views.
    He along with Labour ignores the NI electorate.
    4. He even ignores his own supporters in Northern Ireland.
    5. NI is a plaything for politicians like Mr Corbyn who will never have to face the electoral consequences of their actions.
    6. If the IRA had carried out a more extensive bombing campaign in England do you honestly think he would have said the things he did. Would Mr McDonnell have called them heroes? Of course they wouldn’t.

    He is at best a fool, but the more I see of him he dissembles and is disingenuous. He is not fit to be an MP far less the leader of a great party, or even a PM.

  26. Barney says:

    Hi Anthony,

    Good job on collating the facts & applying a consistent analysis of Jeremy Corbyn’s role in the Peace Process. I must admit the introductory tone is a bit overblown in its adversarial contempt, but then I suppose random banality on twitter sets me off sometimes too. In any case, I’m glad it provoked you to write this piece 🙂

    It’s not hard to see why Corbyn’s consistent defence of the Republican cause is controversial, and his parliamentary pronouncements WRT the Anglo Irish Agreement are critical. This was a landmark moment and he undermined the historic achievement in protesting it.

    I think you could simply say that Corbyn was essentially a defender of the Republicans and was ultimately useful in the settlement process because he offered a ‘way in from the cold’ for a cause which was not going to disappear and was otherwise deeply mutually hostile to the British state.

    It’s interesting to read Keith Veness’ account because it reminds us that achievements like this don’t come about through simply being right and towing the line. Tony Blair had the remarkable political will (and position) to power this incredible historic achievement, but it wasn’t a Gordian knot waiting for his decision: the hard, risky, unpleasant work and principles of people like Mo Mowlam Jeremy Corbyn were utterly essential.

    It’s reductive to suggest the achievements of New Labour all ultimately come down to Tony Blair’s tactical positioning (in any less gifted person they are a liability), just as it’s reductive to suggest Jeremy Corbyn’s tenacity in the face of controversy here was the key to the whole thing.

    I’m sure we’d all like to hear more of the gritty details Keith could probably account for, but this is recent history and getting that kind of detail out in a responsible way is probably not yet possible.

  27. Bill h says:

    Interesting that even the Corbyn acolytes on this board make no attempt to justify his voting, along with Enoch Powell and Ian Paisley, against the Anglo Irish Agreement in 1986. Sadly, his adherence to the dogma of “a united Ireland” trumped his commitment to peace in Ireland. The peace that the AIA led to may be a long way from ideal, but, my goodness, it’s an improvement on the violence before.

    The point that Corby restricted his contact to Sinn Fein, ignoring other parties in N. Ireland, has already been made. It would also appear that he, ineptly for someone engaged in peacemaking, failed to gauge opinion in Eire, where Sinn Fein enjoyed precious little support. This is hardly surprising since, when the people of Eire were asked in the referendum whether they approved of amending their constitution to recognise the partition of Ireland they overwhelmingly said yes.

  28. Bill H says:

    Interesting that even the Corbyn supporters on this board make no attempt to justify his voting, along with Enoch Powell and Ian Paisley, against the Anglo Irish Agreement in 1986. Sadly, his adherence to the dogma of “a united Ireland” trumped his commitment to peace in Ireland. The peace that the AIA led to may be a long way from ideal, but, my goodness, it’s an improvement on the violence before.

    The point that Corbyn restricted his contact to Sinn Fein, ignoring other parties in N. Ireland, has already been made. It would also appear that he, ineptly for someone engaged in peacemaking, failed to gauge opinion in Eire, where Sinn Fein enjoyed precious little support. This is hardly surprising since, when the people of Eire were asked in the referendum whether they approved of amending their constitution to recognise the partition of Ireland they overwhelmingly said yes.

  29. Paddy says:

    All the idiots commenting on why he didn’t speak to all sides in the conflict clearly don’t understand the conflict. Do you really think loyalist terrorist groups would have welcomed Corbyn with open arms after his comments? His body most likely would never have been found if he went for secret talks with them.

  30. Matt says:

    Anthony, can you please delete your embarrassing and innacurate article now, that you’ve been shown to be incorrect.
    Stick perhaps to talking about comics, since that’s what you’re good at.

  31. Chris says:

    Do you feel the conservatives deal and alliance with the DUP compromises the good Friday agreement?

  32. Wilf says:

    All a bit awkward now isn’t it.

    But to be pedantic, the article can be challenged fairly quickly with a bit of research (it allowed Anthony, you should try it). Take a look on what the experts said about the Anglo-Irish agreement before and after it was signed. Then take a look about the good Friday agreement and see which you think had the required effect.
    Also look up UK covenant contact with paramilitaries – more emissaries than Corbyn were involved and not above the table.
    An article is better to read when it’s factual and fair, not loaded and distorted – can get that from the rags.

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